It comes as absolutely no surprise to me that five-year-old Off-White is the world’s hottest brand.
That’s because Off-White comes courtesy of Virgil Abloh, one of the most influential and relevant people in the world today (Google him, seriously). He has succeeded in bridging the two worlds of streetwear and luxury together in a way that feels totally authentic, aspirational and inspiring.
Cutting his teeth as an intern for Fendi in 2009 with Kanye West resulted in the start of an incredible artistic collaboration, with Abloh becoming creative director for Ye’s agency just as Kanye became a global superstar. He is also the first African-American artistic director of Louis Vuitton, a role he took up in March.
This has caused a huge shift in how the storied fashion house’s products are created and presented and, importantly, how this brand is becoming desirable to a new audience. He is an outsider, a true disruptor, the breaker of barriers (walls and glass ceilings) who has deconstructed the old establishment’s way of doing things from his first label, Pyrex, in 2012.
“When I studied engineering... it was the humanities classes that I had put to the side that ultimately started me on this path of thinking about creativity in a much more cultural context,” he once told the New York Times. “Not designing for design’s sake but connecting design to the rhythm of what’s happening in the world.”
For me, this ‘rhythm’ is culture, the stuff of life – it’s lifestyle, it’s politics, it’s issues in the community, a reflection of people’s reality, it’s emotional. It’s what we see, what we do, what we wear, what we listen to, how we act, how we communicate.
And when your brand is able contribute to the community you want to be part of, it will be a relevant, authentic and influential part of culture.
Culture, like a good brand, is a living and breathing thing, requiring constant monitoring and evaluation and work to adapt and change. To succeed in this space, brands need to work to a timeline that matches culture – not traditional advertising campaign media buys.
Abloh really understands how to do this. Famous for not having an office, travelling relentlessly and working through his phone means that he is constantly aware of what’s happening at ground level. The age-old clichés of ‘ear to the ground’ and ‘finger on the pulse’ ring very true here – he represents a generation whose side gigs are becoming industries and working remotely is becoming the norm.
This is why Abloh calls Off-White his ‘laboratory’, a place where insight is what is happening in culture before that data has hit big brand research agency levels, where product is created and adapted dependent on the ‘now’. The use of his friends, audience and an ever-evolving network as collaborators in all parts of his work has opened the door for this new generation.
Co-creation with brands such as Ikea, Nike, Levi’s and Moncler has helped to expand the label to new audiences and territories, while simultaneously giving kudos to these more established brands.
Additionally, his communications around his work rarely feel like ‘advertising’. They are much more akin to how this generation communicates at the intersection of URL and IRL [in real life] – something that we, who have worked in these cultural areas for years, have always done differently to the traditional advertising world.
So, it comes as even less of a surprise that few people within traditional advertising and branding would have ever even heard of him. To be honest, he simply does not fit their cookie cutter mould, so identifying someone like him would not come easily.
I launched Platform13 just over a year ago, with ‘RIP influencer marketing, long live influence’ as the tagline. If there was ever an example of who the latter may be, Abloh would be the benchmark.
Leila Fataar is the founder of Platform13. She Instagrams at @leila_fataar.